Page 76 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 27

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70
J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
to know in the New York
Jewish Spectator,
“have Jews, t
foreigners of yesterday, the Slavonic and Yiddish speaking i
migrants, become almost overnight prodigious contributors
American literature? Charles Angoff is well known for his dep
tion of American life and so also in other spheres are Irw
Shaw and Ben Hecht. Yet, what measure will compare th
writers with such literary celebrities as Arthur Miller and Lud
Lewisohn?” Is it because the world feels a little of the Jewi
tragedy of our six million dead? Philip Toynbee, recently talki
to Graham Greene, began “by taking the most appalling and le
escapable event of our times: the extermination of the Jews.
you think,” he asked Greene, “ that this frightful crime and trage
has had any direct effect on novels and poetry in Englan
“Not direct,” Greene answered, “but certainly indirect.” Me
Levin has put an interesting question: “Why have these boo
become popular? Is it not because they feed a latent anti-Semi
appetite? They emphasize and exaggerate the very traits insis
upon in the mythology. Are the writers themselves not victi
of the legendary prototype? I believe that some of us have
thought enough about the possible effects of what we produc
I sometimes wonder if this “Jewish Renaissance” may be li
the sudden discovery when I was a boy of Russian literature, wh
in 1910 and 1912 Constance Garnett and Aylmer Maude a
Kotyliansky translated Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov and Gor
and there was nothing else talked about than the great Russia
The novelty bowled us over. “The literary world lacks balanc
Somerset Maugham warned us, “ and when a fancy takes it,
apt to regard it not as a passing fashion but as Heaven’s f
law. Several writers transplanted Russian melancholy, Russ
mysticism, Russian despair to Surrey or Michigan, Brooklyn
Clapham.” The Great Russians are still great. Dostoevsky
Tolstoy are literary giants. But they no longer overshadow
literature as they did when I was a youngster. There are ti
ebbs and flows in literature as in everything else.
The Present Fashion in Literat
How much of the present fashion in literature is the re
of constant plugging by the “ intellectuals of the New Criticis
many of whom are, as Angoff says, “obfuscating literary valu
Somerset Maugham speaking of the literary pundits who m
literary fashions suggests that they can read more into a writ
words than he himself realized. “ Fools can alway be found
discover a hidden sense in them.” We have a canonization to
of several Jewish writers and artists—Kafka, Chagall, Agn
Bashevis Singer. I wonder if what their admirers read into t